"Sickest of sick" get organs first - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

"Sickest of sick" get organs first

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(03/24/14) - Every day, 18 people die waiting for organ transplants. So, how do doctors decide who moves up the waiting list to get donor organs?

It is a tough process, especially since supply is far below demand.

Mark Johnson has suffered years of ventricular tachycardia, a rapid heartbeat that has led to several sudden deaths.

Mark would always come back, but his wife, Lori, knew he needed a new heart and fast, "I just knew that he wasn't going to last much longer if he didn't receive a new heart. "

Mark's doctor, Robert Higgins, at Ohio State University,  labeled him the sickest of the sick, "we kept him in the hospital until we could find the right heart based upon the blood type, the height, and the weight."

A good organ match is only one of the criteria doctors use to decide on a transplant.

Others are: is the donor near the patient? Is the patient compliant - good at following a medical regimen? Is the patient urgent and emergent, or sickest of the sick?  

"It was a matter of waiting until you're sick enough to be on the list, but not so sick that the transplant's not going to help you," Mark says.

Four months in to his wait, Dr. Higgins gave Mark a new heart.

"In doing so, we save lives, hopefully for 5, or 10, or maybe even 20 years," but Higgins says, the reality is, thousands of people die waiting, "only about 10,000 organ donors are available in the United States. The challenge is there are 120,000 people waiting for life-saving, life-enhancing organ transplants."

With those odds, Mark feels blessed, "just being able to, you know, have a, a heart at this point is, is just beyond words."

Dr. Higgins says it is critically important for good donor candidates to give their organs, but adds that tissue donation is even more needed. Donated cornea, skin, and bone tissue enhance even more lives.

To learn more about becoming a donor, visit The United Network for Organ Sharing's website at www.dot.unos.org 

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